Leroy, you began your working life as an Undertaker. How did that come about?
I was introduced to the undertaking industry through my uncle who was also an undertaker at the time. I was only 17 when I took the job, They had a vacancy and I needed the work, so I guess I sort of just fell into the role as I had no real education when I left school. I worked there for just over a year and probably did upwards of 400-500 funerals in that time. I found it a very enlightening and uplifting experience as it taught me the value and perspective of life at a very early age.
I have certainly witnessed a lot of stomach-churning things that a lot of people would not like to see, for me I have found a certain type of solace in my experience that keeps me grounded and serves massively in my filmmaking process. The oddity about being an undertaker at 17 was that I was witnessing certain realities/horrors first-hand, and the shocking tolls life can take on the human body, all before the legal age of being able to buy an 18 rated movie ticket…Go figure that one out.
Then, even more amazingly, you became one of the UK’s top professional wrestlers for over 10 years, juggling this with a career as an actor. What made you give up the ring and concentrate on the stage?
In my days as a Pro-Wrestler, I was very fortunate to meet some of the world’s top wrestlers and even as a career highlight, I had a singles match on WWE Smackdown. Wrestling was one of my biggest passions back in the day and a part of me still misses lacing up my boots and stepping out into the ring to put on a show.
I really loved the sport and the energy that I got from being a wrestler but unfortunately, I fell out of love with the business. I made a promise to myself early on that when the ride stopped being fun I would walk away. For a few years just before I quit, if I’m honest I felt rather cursed, as I was too good to quit but I had really fallen out of love with it and was very uncertain about the future that I wanted.
The crazy thing about my decision, was at the time of me leaving the business everything was lined up. I was doing regular shows, I was on main events for some of those shows but I just wasn’t happy…Happy in myself and the direction I was going as a Wrestler. So eventually I had to listen to my heart and bow out gracefully on top.
Did your career as an Undertaker influence your love of genre films?
Undertaking has had a very real-life impact on the way I view gore and horror itself, but ultimately the seed of my darkness and noir perspective comes many years before I was working in the undertaking industry.
You have a particular passion for horror films from the 80’s & 90’s. Why?
Some of the films that I heavily draw inspiration and passion from are for the most part from the 80’s, films like The Thing, Poltergeist, The Entity, Amityville II: The Possession and Aliens. Of course, there are many other films that I could list, but these are the ones I remember first watching as a child and I guess they have stuck with me ever since.
The 80’s and parts of the 90’s for me was a time where characters were allowed to be characters, and it was also a time when stories were exactly that. You put your tape into the VCR, possibly rewind it before hitting play and you would sit through 1hr 45min to 2hrs of ‘badassery’ – a term for story that has now become known as a slow burn movie.
Bethan Waller as Lucy in The Last Rite
THE LAST RITE is your directorial feature debut. How was it born?
The Last Rite stems from a few places, some of my biggest draws on the story was my own personal life experiences with sleep paralysis and also the paranormal happenings. Not only were my personal experiences relevant, but I am very heavily influenced by real life cases of the paranormal also.
Many hours of research and digging have led me down a path, and one that I firmly believe that as much as we live in this world, there are forces that we do not understand and sometimes when we look into the void of darkness, the darkness looks back at us.
With such a heavy life experience on things, it just absolutely made sense to direct an inspired by “true events story” in an area that I not only love but also have some experience with… And thus, The Last Rite was born.
The film will have its World premiere at FrightFest. What does that feel like?
Bloody awesome! I cannot express my gratitude enough to the team at FrightFest for having us and showing my film to such a dynamite audience. It feels rather surreal to know that my film is going to be playing in such an amazing festival, not only because it’s my debut feature but more so because of the prestige that FrightFest has behind its name. I am more than a little excited.
You have gone on record as saying you’ve had real life paranormal experiences. Can you tell us a bit more and how they informed the making of the film?
Having had first-hand experience with sleep paralysis and being a former paranormal investigator, there were things that I just naturally understand about the paranormal subgenre. I understand that by the sheer nature of the unknown itself, it can be a rather scary but also daunting thought to get your head around. For me, it just felt like the absolute best fit for my debut feature film.
I believe that facts are always much stranger than fiction, so making sure that I served the truth as much as I could, all through the eyes of the experience itself, was very important to me.
Bethan Waller as Lucy in The Last Rite
You brilliantly set up a dark sense of uncertainly throughout the film. How did you achieve this? And what films played an influential role?
As the Writer, Director and Director of Photography the key was to execute what I believe was the right fitting for The Last Rite’s world, and that was to give the night its very own characteristic that represented the horror in the story. So much so, the night always feels like there can be something lurking in the sickly tone of moonlight. It was a subtle add but for this story it worked brilliantly.
For very intense and physically demanding scenes I always set the tone with atmospheric dark music from film scores like, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister. This really allowed the ambience to take a hold, especially at 03:00am on a Friday night with candles fully ablaze about to raise some demonic hell.
You founded Nocturnal Pictures in 2014 and have written & directed three short films and a number of music videos. What is the overriding ambition for the company and for you?
In years to come I envision Nocturnal Pictures as being a pioneering production and distribution company for other passionate filmmakers. It would be amazing to not only make films but also give others a chance at telling their story under the Nocturnal brand. This is definitely some years off but I 100% want to build a platform that will be a leading company in the Horror and Action genres of film.
You’ve been short-listed for this year’s Screen Genre Rising Star Award. How do you feel about that?
It feels absolutely bloody awesome to have been short-listed for the Genre Rising Star Award, especially to be one of very few selected among other talented individuals. I want to build worlds and stories that exist with horror themes and dark conventions riddled through its backbone. So now that I’m in the running for such a prestigious award, it only feels right to focus on what could happen next. Regardless of the outcome I want to offer up a fresh voice to the genre…
You have another film, FACILITY 7, in development. What can you tell us about it?
Currently I have two features that I am working on, they are called Facility 7 and Hollow Ones, both horror films of course!
The script for Facility 7 is ready to go and the film is somewhat of a combination of 28 Days Later meets Aliens. Again, very dark, atmospheric but certainly takes no prisoners when it comes to the horror gauntlet. Oddly, this script was finished before I even started writing The Last Rite, but for it being such a big scale movie, I wanted to have another film as my first feature to get my style of filmmaking further ingrained in my psyche.
Hollow Ones, is currently in the 2nd draft stage and is naturally excessively dark, I’m calling it “MY ANGRY MOVIE”. This story is a home invasion horror that’s a bit like Strangers meets I Spit On Your Grave.
THE LAST RITE will screen at Arrow Video FrightFest on Saturday Aug 28 at The Cineworld Leicester Square. Tickets: www.frightfest.co.uk